CTA unveils new bus-tracking system to fix ‘bunching,’ gaps

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Outgoing CTA President Forrest Claypool demonstrates the agency’s new $8.8 million computerized Bus Transit Management System. It will provide real-time, two-way communications between bus drivers and the CTA’s control center to try to eliminate bus “bunching” and “gapping.” | Provided photo

The Chicago Transit Authority on Monday unveiled its new $8.8 million computerized Bus Transit Management System designed to solve the biggest challenges to its bus service: “bunching” and long waits.

The modern system will provide real-time monitoring of all of the CTA’s 1,800 buses, with two-way communications between their drivers and the agency’s main control center, allowing buses to more quickly adapt to changing traffic conditions.

More than 818,000 riders depend on CTA buses on any given weekday, and most of their 19,000 bus trips go smoothly, but the buses are vulnerable to any manner of incidents that can occur on the city’s busy streets, outgoing CTA President Forrest Claypool said.

“Delays sometimes occur. The culprits include everything from stalled cars and construction work to regular rush-hour congestion, and even police and fire department activity,” said Claypool, who’s heading to City Hall to serve as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s next chief of staff.

“By communicating street conditions to our drivers and taking into account the location of other buses and traffic flows, we can coordinate service centrally in a way we could not do before,” he said. “The result will not be an end to all bus bunching or gapping, but it will produce significant improvements.”

Bunching occurs when more than one bus arrives at the same stop at nearly the exact same time. Gaps — elongated wait times between buses — occur as a result.

With the new system, if the control center detects a source of service delay, it can inform bus drivers to slow down, skip stops or reroute if necessary, almost instantaneously, to keep the buses running on time.

Currently, when problems develop on bus routes, the agency dispatches its 100 bus service managers by car to communicate with the drivers. The new system has shown success on nine busy South Side bus routes out of the 77th Street and 103rd Street garages — reducing bunching and gapping by 40 percent, according to officials.

About 80 percent of the buses have been equipped with the federally funded monitoring system, and the remaining 20 percent should be equipped by mid-June, officials said.

A February 2015 report on a survey of CTA customer satisfaction by RSG Inc. identified the top three drivers of customer satisfaction: getting to a destination on time; service when a customer needs it; and bus stop or rail station appearance.

“This system is just the latest example of how the CTA has used technology to provide a better customer experience,” Claypool said, pointing to the expansion over the past four years of its bus and train tracker services carrying up-to-the-minute arrival time information to riders, and expansion of its security camera network.

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